Righthaven's dream of corporate enrichment via frivolous lawsuits is in tatters, and the company's erstwhile partners are abandoning ship. The new CEO of MediaNews Group, John Paton, announced this week that its partnership with Righthaven would expire at the end of the month and that the company has no plans to renew it.
“The issues about copyright are real,” Paton told Wired.com in a telephone interview. “But the idea that you would hire someone on an — essentially — success fee to run around and sue people at will who may or may not have infringed as a way of protecting yourself … does not reflect how news is created and disseminated in the modern world. I come from the idea that it was a dumb idea from the start."
The great irony of the situation is that some of the issues Righthaven raised genuinely had merit. Modern technology has created gray areas in copyright law and within the concept of fair use, particularly when considering issues of plagiarism, appropriate attribution, and content linking. Instead of attempting to litigate high profile, clear-cut cases where harm might actually have occurred, Righthaven chased every two-bit blogger and online publication it could find and filed dozens of lawsuits in an attempt to overwhelm defendants with a mountain of intimidating paperwork.
We're not saying the firm was inspired by Wile E. Coyote...well, actually, we are.
Most firms would've stopped there, but not Righthaven. The firm lied about the nature of its relationship with its clients (including MediaNews and Stephens Media
, its sole remaining client and financial backer), and misrepresented
its ownership of the copyrights it claimed to be defending. Its lawyers further attempted to argue that the court should consider an amended agreement between itself and its clients in order to prosecute alleged infringement, even though the agreement was invalid at the time the infringement occurred.
Righthaven has ceased filing new cases, but not before Judge Rodger Hunt of the 9th Circuit fined it $5000 for failure to divulge pertinent information and blasted it for "masquerading as a company." Another defendent, William Hoehn, has been awarded $34,000 in attorney fees. While Righthaven has settled a significant number of cases out of court, the company is little more than a shadow of itself. It's a far cry from last year, when Righthaven's CEO, Steve Gibson, claimed he could rejuvenate the print industry by suing alleged infringers. "“We believe there to be millions, if not billions, of infringements out there," Gibson said.
Whatever funds Righthaven may have recovered, they'll scarcely be sufficient to defend the company from the avalanche of countersuits that could start snowballing. With MediaNews gone, Righthaven is down to just one client--and we suspect Stephens Media will cut its losses as soon as possible.